- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Opposition to fracking is threatening the political viability of the oil industry in New Mexico, and oil companies will start fighting back against criticism, an oil and gas industry lobbyist warned.

Claire Chase, government affairs director of Mack Energy of Artesia, told lawmakers last week that New Mexico is the most vulnerable state in the nation to increasing opposition to fracking and fossil fuels in general, The Roswell Daily Record reports (https://goo.gl/uZtJCU ).

Speaking at the Chaves County Legislative Dinner in Santa Fe, Chase said the opposition is coming from environmentalists. Polling data showed opposition also growing among minority voters, she said.

“We are under constant attack on TV and in print and from the Legislature, and also especially in social media,” Chase said. “And sadly, the target on us is not getting smaller, it’s getting bigger. And because of these factors, the industry and the communities that we serve have to start fighting back.”

Chase told lawmakers the oil industry in New Mexico will begin thinking like fracking opponents.

In addition, Chase said the state’s oil and gas industry contributes on average 33 percent of the state’s annual budget from permits on state lands, and it almost entirely funds the state’s Public Education Department.

Her comment come as environmentalists, advocacy groups and Native Americans tribes have been speaking out against the shale-oil extraction process known as fracking. They say they are worried about environmental hazards created by the process.

Most recently, groups crowded a New Mexico legislative committee hearing to speak in favor of a memorial calling on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to halt oil and gas drilling around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The symbolic measure failed to get out of committee.

Emma Sandoval, co-director of the Albuquerque-based advocacy group the SouthWest Organizing Project, said activists won’t be intimidated by any campaign sponsored by the oil industry.

“I’m not surprised business is going to come out and try to make sure our voices are silenced,” Sandoval said. “We will continue to speak out.”

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